Josh Raiff used an e-cigarette for the first time when he was 16. Since then he’s gone from “smoking a pod a day” to trying to quit nicotine products altogether. When he heard about Donald Trump’s plan to ban flavored e-cigarette products he asked, “Does making the drinking age 21 stop kids from drinking?” 

“About one in three of my friends JUUL” said Raiff,19, referring to one of the most dominant brands among e-cigarettes. “Most of them say they’re trying to quit, but honestly, they’re not really.”

An outbreak of deaths and illnesses related to the devices has brought increased scrutiny to e-cigarette use among teens. As of today, the CDC has reported over 500 serious lung related injuries and over 10 deaths, all linked to the use of e-cigarettes and other vaping products. In the wake of these deaths many have highlighted the role e-cigarette flavors play in attracting teens to the products. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also announced he’s pursuing an emergency ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarette products in New York. 

“I think a big pull is that e-cigarettes have that flavor,” said Robi Lopez-Irizarry, 19, who said he had tried e-cigarettes in the
past. “It’s not tobacco.”
Lopez-Irizarry said that flavor wasn’t the only attribute that attracted students.

“The very design of the product makes it seems like a cool trendy product,” he said.

According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, over 20 percent of students report using e-cigarette products, with the vast majority reporting using fruity or other non-tobacco flavors. But while flavor may play a role in attracting students to the products, many experts question their relationship to the recent outbreak of fatalities. 

“That has nothing to do with e-cigarette flavors [and] nothing to do with nicotine,” said Dr. David Abrams, a professor at New York University with over 40 years of experience in tobacco and nicotine research. 

“All of these are due to a sudden outbreak of illegal and contaminated marijuana oil products,” said Abrams. The real danger, Abrams said, is that banning flavored products may encourage consumers to create their own flavors or buy from un-official and unsafe vendors. 

Abrams also stressed the benefits that flavored e-cigarettes can have to people, including teens, who smoke cigarettes. 

“We have very strong evidence that more than 60 percent of the teens who are using flavored e-cigarettes used to smoke, so you’re taking away the off-ramp away from a deadly product more than you’re stopping a gateway into smoking,” said Abrams. 

Others in the industry have placed their hope in other policies which they believe can help reduce e-cigarette use among teens, while preserving it as an option for adult smokers hoping to switch. 

“If I thought that banning flavors would get this out of the kid’s hands, I would be for it,” said Shawn Hayes, who owns and operates an independent vape shop in Burnsville, Minnesota. 

Hayes said that the industry is willing to work with regulators and expressed support for policies such as raising the age requirement for purchases, increased regulation on which stores are able to sell e-cigarettes products, and increased focus on educating the public. 

“This falls on the shoulders of the parents, the school, the community,” said Hayes. “It falls on all our shoulders. To take away the flavors, it’s not gonna stop it.”